Fears for future of private university after recruitment ‘pause’

Situation at Richmond raises questions about English sector regulation

January 10, 2020
Source: Alamy

A private university in London whose students are eligible for public loan funding has “paused” recruitment after running into financial trouble, prompting fears it may collapse and raising questions about regulation of the English sector.

Problems at Richmond, the American International University in London, stem from a dispute between the institution and the owner of the properties it leases in Richmond and Kensington, Times Higher Education understands.

Phil Deans, acting president of the university, said: “After careful consideration the board of trustees decided in December 2019 it had no alternative but to pause enrolling new degree-seeking students.”

The liberal arts institution is open for the spring 2020 term for continuing students.

In 2018, Richmond was awarded UK degree awarding powers, in addition to existing US degree-granting authority, which it said made it the “first and only university to achieve this combination of US and UK degree-awarding powers”. 

Students at Richmond have claimed £7.8 million in Student Loans Company fee loan funding, provided by the UK government, since 2012. At the most recent tally, the university had roughly 300 students with SLC funding.

The university has been included by the Office for Students, the English regulator, on its register of providers, granting the institution continued access to SLC funding.

An OfS spokesman said that it was “monitoring the situation” at Richmond. “We were notified of a material change in circumstances since the provider’s registration and the OfS has continued to keep this under review,” he added.

“We are continuing to consider whether we need to act to protect the interests of students and will not hesitate to do so if that becomes necessary.”

The university was set up in 1972 by the late Sir Cyril Taylor, an adviser to Conservative education secretaries and an education reformer, who also created the Cyril Taylor Charitable Foundation (CTCF), a registered UK charity. 

Sir Cyril also set up the for-profit, US-based American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS), which has long owned the properties the university occupies. Richmond was dependent on Sir Cyril’s financial support.

On his death in 2018, Sir Cyril bequeathed ownership of the AIFS to the CTCF, since when relations with the university appear to have declined.

There are concerns from some about the complex relationships and financial agreements between the charitable CTCF, for-profit AIFS and the university.

Lawrence Abeln, a former director of the MBA programme at the MIT Sloan School of Management, was appointed president of Richmond in 2018. But the university now has an acting president.

Dr Deans said: “The university has always relied on the generous support of its founder, Sir Cyril Taylor, but since his passing in 2018 we have not been able to secure a long-term funding alternative.

“The university is actively seeking potential partners to find backing and support that will ensure long-term support for a remarkable institution. This critical work continues, and we aim to provide an update to the Richmond community, and other interested parties, as the situation develops in the coming weeks and months.”

Asked if there was a risk that the university might be forced to close, Dr Deans said: “As always, we plan for the worst but work for the best, and student protection is the key priority.”

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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